sports 14 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY march 14-20, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Monterey Bay F.C. hopes that the third year is the charm. Players, coaches and fans share this anticipation as the 2024 campaign gets underway, with the team’s home opener at Cardinale Stadium slated for Saturday, March 16 against defending champions Phoenix Rising. In its first two seasons, MBFC finished just out of USL Championship playoff contention. Head coach Frank Yallop says the first two seasons the team wasn’t quite ready for the playoffs. Last year, a run of poor play in the final stretch of the schedule doomed MBFC. “It’s usually year three when you start to see the fruits of your labor,” Yallop explains. “We want to get over that line and be in the playoffs. That’s our goal. So that’s the aim for this club right now.” Defender Hugh Roberts, the team captain a year ago, is gone, as are potent offensive-minded stars Christian Volesky and Sam Gleadle. The crop of new players on the roster promise to bring the squad to a new level, however. These include forwards Luther Archimède and Tristan Trager, midfielders Xavi Gnaulati and Pierce Gallaway, along with Carlos Guzman to bolster the back line. Midfielder Adrian Rebollar, a Watsonville native, returns for his third season with the Union. He says every year the team has improved. “We really started to build a relationship with all the players and the coaches—the whole club as a collective,” Rebollar observes. Yallop is pleased with the progress of both new additions and returning veterans during preseason play. “They’ve settled in emotionally and mentally, and I think that’s important,” he points out. “That will make them shine when they get on the field.” That chemistry is essential, particularly on a bilingual squad. Guzman, who speaks Spanish and English, jokes that Spanglish is the team’s official on-pitch language. But, he adds, “The most-spoken language is soccer.” That’s a language familiar even to the rookies. Gallaway is the first player from Monterey County brought to the squad, as well as the first to ascend from the developmental team MBFC2 to the first team. “This is something that I’ve been working for since I was a kid, and to have that opportunity to play so close to home, it’s a dream come true,” Gallaway says. Former classmates, coaches and relatives have reached out to him. “It’s been super cool to see all the love. I’m excited to see them here at Cardinale and give them something to cheer for.” Gallaway adds that friends and family have been calling with more than just congratulations. “My grandparents are hitting me up for tickets,” he says with a laugh. “So yeah, they’ll be here for sure.” For fans like Esther Hobbs of Seaside, roster changes are part of the excitement of spring. “I’m looking forward to having new favorite players this year,” Hobbs says, specifically highlighting Gallaway. “I’m very excited that we have our new local player come from Carmel.” Hobbs has a special bond with the team. Although a reluctant soccer fan initially, the first time she stepped through the gate at Cardinale Stadium she was hooked. “I really enjoy just seeing the whole community come together and cheer on a team,” she explains. “It’s just intoxicating.” Now a season ticket holder who even attends preseason matches—“with the exception of the one night that I went to a Taylor Swift concert”—Hobbs kept up with MBFC last year as she battled cancer. When told of her condition, the team presented Hobbs with a signed jersey. “I wore that signed jersey when I would go for my radiation treatments,” she says. Through her journey, she engaged her friends and family with the team, telling them that watching the matches and sharing results would keep her spirits up. Through the process, they also became fans. Perhaps the Union’s biggest fan— certainly the most recognizable—is Dan Devlin, known for his colorful outfits and resonating cheers. “Superfan Dan” is particularly looking forward to the home opener against Phoenix. “It’s my 22nd wedding anniversary that night,” Devlin points out. Devlin has known Gallaway since he was a youngster playing on local club teams. As the MBFC2 announcer, Devlin witnessed Gallaway’s progress with the second team. “He played really, really well last year as part of the MBFC2 team,” Devlin notes. “That was exciting. [I’m] very excited to see what Pierce can bring.” The USL Championship plays a 34-game season with 24 teams divided between two divisions, Eastern and Western. Monterey Bay opened the 2024 schedule at El Paso Locomotive FC on March 13, a match that kicked off after press time. Following the Saturday home opener, MBFC hosts Rhode Island in a Sunday afternoon contest on March 24. “Even if you don’t like soccer, I guarantee you come to Cardinale Stadium on game night and you join in with what’s going on in the stadium— cheering, chanting and playing—you’ll become a fan,” Devlin says. “You’ll be back.” Monterey Bay F.C.’s home opener takes place at 7pm Saturday, March 16. Cardinale Stadium, 4111 2nd Ave., Seaside. $29-$270/single game tickets; $290-$3,200/ season tickets. 324-2560, montereybayfc.com. Pitch Perfect Starting their third season, pro soccer team Monterey Bay F.C. is determined to make a playoff run. By Celia Jiménez Chemistry is essential, particularly on a bilingual squad. Abpve: Midfielder Pierce Gallaway, 22, a Carmel native and one of five new additions to the team. Below: Superfan Dan—Dan Devlin’s gameday persona—rallies the crowd during a contest in 2023. celia jiménez daniel dreifuss